WHAT’S HAPPENING: Hurricane slams Florida panhandle, Georgia

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The wind and storm surge related insurance industry loss from hurricane Michael is estimated to be between $2 billion and $4.5 billion by Corelogic, based on a pre-landfall data assessment of the storms impacts to insured assets.

A structure in Panama City Beach was no match for Michael's winds, as the home under construction collapsed an hour prior to the Category 4 storm's eyewall coming ashore.

Despite weakening to a tropical storm, risky wind guests of 50mph are still heading inland.

The storm is being blamed for at least two deaths. Early on Thursday, it was downgraded to a tropical storm, with top sustained winds diminishing to 60 miles per hour.

The US National Hurricane Centre warned the effects from Michael's storm surge (or tsunami-like rise in water at the coast), destructive winds, and flooding rain would be "potentially catastrophic".

State officials issued disaster declarations in Alabama and Georgia and the storm is also expected to bring heavy rainfall to North and SC.

Risky conditions from damaging winds and flooding rain were forecast to spread through Georgia and into the Carolinas Wednesday night and Thursday (Friday NZT).

As Florence made its way toward the coast of the Carolinas last month, it weakened from a Category 4 to a Category 1 storm with sustained winds of 90 miles per hour.

In any case, no matter how you measure it, Michael is among the most powerful hurricanes in recent memory along with Camille in 1969, Andrew in 1992 and Katrina in 2005. The lead-gray water was so high that roofs were about all that could be seen of many homes.

Bill Manning, a 63-year-old grocery clerk, fled his camper van in Panama City for safer quarters in a hotel only to see the electricity there go out.

"My God, it's scary".

He was one of about 2,500 of the town's 3,500 residents who ended up staying put, many of them caught off guard by the storm's rapid escalation as it approached.

In the case of Michael the damage will be mainly from wind rather than rain.

It swamped streets, bent trees, stripped away limbs and leaves, knocked out power, shredded awnings and sent other building debris flying.

As of 4 a.m. Wednesday, almost 8,000 people were being housed in 54 shelters across the Panhandle and Big Bend, according to the state Division of Emergency Management.

More than 40 percent of daily crude oil production and more than one-third of natural gas output was lost from offshore US Gulf of Mexico wells on Wednesday because of platform evacuations and shut-ins caused by Michael. "Houses that have been there forever are just shattered".

Hurricane center Director Ken Graham said on Facebook that Michael would be the worst storm in recorded history to hit the Panhandle.

"This situation has NEVER happened before", it said on Twitter.

FEMA head Brock Long acknowledged that early evacuation efforts in the area were slow in comparison to how quickly the hurricane intensified.

President Donald Trump has been in touch with state governors and said a federal emergency team is standing by and ready to help with storm recovery.

The Pentagon positioned more than 2,200 active-duty military personnel, along with helicopters, high-water vehicles and swift-water boats.

It made landfall on the coast as a Category 1 hurricane on September 14 and drenched some parts of the state with 101 centimeters of rain.

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